TORONTO – The provincial government is expecting to receive millions of rapid antigen tests this month following a Jan. 5 federal announcement that 140 million rapid tests would be distributed across the country.
Ontario’s remaining stock of rapid tests is currently “limited” because of “global demand,” Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said during a Jan. 6 press conference announcing the anticipated arrival of more tests “over the next few weeks.”
According to the Ministry of Health, as of Jan. 3 the province had 380,000 tests remaining in its stockpiles that are reserved for high-risk health care settings.
“Ontario is experiencing temporary supply constraints, including delays in shipments of [rapid tests] from the federal government, which are impacting the province’s ability to meet this increased demand,” stated a Jan. 6 information package supplied to news reporters.
According to the package, the province has requested 68.8 million tests from the feds for January alone and received a commitment for a supply of 54.3 million tests.
Of that confirmed allotment, 150,000 have been received as of Jan. 6, and at least nine million are scheduled for delivery. Delivery dates for more than 45 million tests are still outstanding.
Moore said anticipated new stock would be provided to other “prioritized settings” such as schools to test those who are symptomatic.
“Given how quickly the Omicron virus has spread, we must preserve these limited resources for those who need them the most to make these tests useful for clinical and for public health decision making,” Moore said.
Although the federal government has committed to the January allotment, it has failed to deliver on previous commitments, according to health ministry data.
In December, the province was expecting 15.5 million rapid tests but only received about 3.4 million. The feds then reneged on providing the remaining 12 million tests previously committed to last month.
Through its own channels, the province has also “procured” an additional 65 million tests in December and January “to mitigate these supply constraints,” but it’s unclear from the information package when and if the province will receive those tests.
More reliance on rapid tests comes with more demand
Because of recent changes to who can access publicly-funded PCR tests and increased reliance on rapid tests for purposes like a new “test-to-work” strategy, the province expects demand for rapid tests to increase from one million per week at present, to 18 million per week through the rest of January.
The rapid tests are expected to be used to prevent staff shortages by keeping critical workers on the job in a new “test-to-work” strategy implemented on Dec. 30, to screen unvaccinated health care workers in high-risk settings and for people who are symptomatic.
The test-to-work strategy allows COVID-positive staff – “when health and safety of the public is concerned” – who are asymptomatic and two-dose vaccinated to work when they would otherwise be required to isolate at home, according to Ministry of Health guidance.
Isolation guidelines revised
For those who have COVID symptoms but don’t have access to rapid tests and are no longer eligible for publicly-funded PCR tests, Moore said a COVID-19 infection should be assumed “given the high community prevalence.”
He encouraged those people to stay home and isolate.
“As a reminder the isolation period is now five days for those who are fully vaccinated and experiencing symptoms; this also applies to their household contacts,” Moore said, adding isolation could be ended after five days.
But if you’re symptomatic and happen to have rapid tests on hand, negative results on two tests – with at least 24 hours between the tests – combined with lessening symptoms over a 24 hour period following the second test, means you’re free from isolating before the five days are up.
Those who are two-dose vaccinated and exposed to the virus, but remain without symptoms, only need to monitor themselves for symptoms – no isolation is suggested.
Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people, Moore said, should isolate for 10 days, along with household contacts.
As of Jan. 3, 54.3 million tests have been sent out across the province, according to the Ministry of Health:
- 22.6 million were distributed to health care and congregate settings;
- 17.4 million went to education and child care;
- 7.3 million were distributed to chambers of commerce;
- 5.7 million went to “essential industries”; and
- 1.2 million were scooped up in the December holiday blitz.
“This will be a tough January, but I’m hopeful for a better February and brighter outlook moving into March,” Moore said, adding, “spring will bring relief.”